THE LONG ROAD HOME
New York City
Detective Alex Eames paused in taking a mouthful of hot coffee, glancing with no small amount of amusement at her sleeping partner. They had been on a stakeout now for nearly six hours – a traditional stakeout that involved numb asses from hours stuck in the not-quite-big-enough Ford sedan they’d been given the use of, and loaded up with donuts, coffee and a whole stack of cinnamon buns.
Bobby had argued that the buns defeated the purpose of having donuts, but she’d ignored him. She loved anything with cinnamon, and the buns had been all she could lay her hands on at short notice. So Bobby had eaten the donuts, while she munched on the buns. Now, hours down the track and with no sign of their target, Alex found her attention drawn to her partner.
She had to conced that it was very unlike him to fall asleep at any time when they were on duty. Sure, they were pulling a double shift until Logan and Barek were able to come and relieve them, and granted they were both tired, but it had still thrown her when the sound of soft snoring alerted her to the fact that Bobby had fallen asleep.
She hadn’t made any effort to waken him, though, figuring that what Deakins didn’t know wouldn’t hurt either of them. Deakins, of course, would have had both their hides if he found out. He was a pretty tolerant person as far as police captains went, but even his patience stretched only so far. She could only hope that Logan and Barek gave them some warning of their arrival, and didn’t catch them unawares. Alex didn’t think Logan would spill to Deakins about Bobby falling asleep while on surveillance. Despite his outward cockiness, Logan was actually a pretty decent guy and a damned fine detective, and he and Bobby seemed to have developed a distinct (if somewhat grudging) respect for each other. However, she didn’t know Barek well enough yet to be sure that she wouldn’t blab.
Bobby mumbled something incoherently in his sleep, drawing an amused smirk from Alex. Too bad she couldn’t understand what he was saying. She could have used it for blackmail later on. He had to be damned tired, though, she thought with renewed sympathy as she returned her gaze to the far side of the street. She recalled that he had looked pretty tired when he arrived at work that morning.
She’d commented on it fairly flippantly… in fact, if she remembered rightly, her words had been something along the lines of ‘so who’s the lucky lady who kept you up all last night partying?’. His only reply had been a sour look and an unintelligible grunt. She’d not pushed it any further, knowing to leave well enough alone, and after a couple of mugs of very strong coffee Bobby seemed to return to his usual oddball self.
A faint moan caught her attention, and she found herself staring at Bobby with the first hints of concern in her gut as he twisted slightly in the car seat, apparently caught up in the throes of a nightmare. For the first time, it occurred to her that perhaps Bobby’s apparently sleep-deprived night had not been because of any female, but rather due to nightmares. She reached out towards him, only to stop just short of touching him as he suddenly spoke out, his voice little more than a wretched moan.
“Refuge… Sydney… please, refuge...”
Alex stared at him, puzzled. Refuge? What the hell was that supposed mean? And who was Sydney? Her heart pounded in her chest as, in the dim light, she caught a glimpse of tears glistening on his cheeks.
Her musings were brought to an abrupt halt when Bobby suddenly shouted wordlessly and awoke with a violent start, jerking around and succeeding cracking his head solidly on the window.
“Ow…” he moaned, his hands coming up to gingerly feel the spot where his head had struck the perspex.
“You idiot,” Alex murmured, reaching out to pull his hands away. He resisted her to start with, and she ended up slapping his hands away so that she could get a look at the bump. “That must have been a doozy of a nightmare,” she murmured, and Bobby grimaced.
“I don’t remember.”
She regarded him sceptically. “You don’t remember a nightmare that you were having thirty seconds ago? C’mon, Bobby, this is me you’re talking to.”
“Seriously,” he insisted, wincing as she pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it gently to his head. “I don’t remember it. What are you doing?”
“You’re bleeding, you dope. Better off ruining a handkerchief than good clothes. Unless you want to let the blood run down your face?”
Bobby sighed softly and gave in, allowing her to tend to the bump while he watched the building out of the corner of his eye.
“How long have I been asleep?”
“About half an hour.”
“I’m sorry, Eames. I shouldn’t have fallen asleep.”
She drew back from him, and gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
“It’s okay, Bobby.”
“No, it isn’t. We’re on surveillance.”
“Bobby, before you start flaying yourself for displaying the otherwise normal human trait of exhaustion, answer me one question. How much sleep did you really get last night?”
He stared at her, torn between answering truthfully and not answering at all. Finally, reluctantly, he gave her an honest answer.
“I think I got an hour… maybe two, tops.”
“And you didn’t have a girl with you, did you?”
He shook his head wordlessly. Her brow creased just fractionally. She hated it when he went into silent mode, forcing her to play the proverbial Twenty Questions with him.
A single, quick nod. Alex suppressed an urge to groan in frustration, and instead asked yet another question.
“And I suppose you don’t remember what they were about either?”
It was impossible for him to miss the bite in her tone. “I don’t remember any of them, Eames. They’re gone, as soon as I wake up. I… I just don’t remember them, and I don’t think I really want to.”
She frowned then.
“Well, that’s a really healthy attitude.”
“No, Bobby. Damn it, I’ve lost count of the times you’ve badgered me into telling you about my nightmares. You’re the one who said it’s important to get it out into the open, that it’s the quickest way to get rid of them. And now you’re pulling this ‘I don’t remember’ shit? I thought you trusted me, Bobby, but I guess I was wrong.”
He flinched, as though she’d physically struck him.
“No. Go to hell, Goren.”
He stared at her as she twisted away from him, fairly trembling with anger, and tried hard to sort out in his frazzled mind just what had gone wrong. Perhaps he really was exhausted, but he simply couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t believe him. The truth was, despite his earlier words, he wished he could remember the nightmares, but it was always the same. He’d wake in a cold sweat, sometimes silently and sometimes crying out. Sometimes he would have tears on his face, and he would awaken with an unbridled sense of misery and fear, but he could never remember the actual content of the nightmares. Hesitantly, not wanting to anger Alex anymore than she already had been, he tried to explain.
“Alex, I’m sorry. I do trust you… but I really can’t remember them. I wish I could, but they’re gone as soon as I wake up. It… It drives me crazy, it’s like not being able to remember what happened yesterday. But I can’t help it. I’ve tried to remember, I swear it. But I just can’t.”
She turned back to him slowly, remorse and acceptance in her eyes at his pleading.
“I’m sorry, Bobby. I shouldn’t have said that. I just find it hard to believe you can’t remember anything about nightmares that have kept you from sleeping for nearly forty-eight hours now.”
He grimaced, brushing his fingers gingerly across his head to check that the bleeding had stopped.
“You and me both.”
Alex hesitated, then spoke quietly.
“Who is Sydney?”
Bobby froze and, for just a split second she saw recognition flash in his eyes. Then, it was gone, locked away deep in the part of his mind that also hid the secret to his ongoing nightmares.
“The name’s familiar, but I can’t place it.”
“Well, you called it out in your sleep.”
“Yeah. You said, ‘Refuge, Sydney, please, refuge’. You don’t know what any of that means?”
He shrugged helplessly. “I wish I did.”
This time, she accepted his words without arguing.
“How are you feeling?” she asked after a little while. He sighed softly.
“Pretty wasted, actually.”
“Mm. I don’t doubt it. How long before Logan and Barek get here?”
“Try minus zero seconds,” a new voice said as the rear doors of the sedan opened, and Mike Logan slipped in one side and Carolyn Barek the other.
“Logan, you idiot, you can’t have minus zero,” Bobby growled. Mike grinned.
“Your opinion. Damn, Goren, what did you do to your head?”
“I beat him up for being a smart ass,” Alex replied flippantly. “Careful, or you’ll be next.”
Carolyn smirked and shook her head as Mike dutifully fell silent. If nothing else, Alex certainly knew how to stop the guys in their tracks.
“Any sign of activity yet?” she asked, and Alex shook her head.
“Nada. It’s been dead quiet.”
“Well, you two are officially relieved,” Carolyn told them. “The SUV’s around the corner. Captain says to go home and get some sleep. He wants all of us in his office at nine tomorrow morning to report to him on the case.”
Bobby sighed with audible relief. “C’mon, Eames. I’ll drive you home.”
“The hell you will,” Alex retorted as they both climbed out of the Ford. “Mike, give me the keys.”
Mike handed the keys to the SUV promptly over to Alex, and shrugged when Bobby shot him a dirty look. “Hey, what can I say? She scares the crap outta me.”
Shaking his head, and ignoring the stifled laughter from within the Ford, Bobby followed Alex around the corner to the SUV.
“I’m not that tired,” he protested as he climbed into the passenger seat beside her. She shot him a sceptical look.
“Don’t argue, Bobby. You’re coming home with me.”
He stared at her speechlessly, able only to blink in astonishment, and it was all she could do not to smack him across the head.
“You’re exhausted. You say you hardly got any sleep last night, and that was pretty much proven in the car. I’m not leaving you alone, knowing that you’re having bad nightmares that are keeping you awake.”
“Eames, I don’t see what difference...”
“Have you even considered that maybe just having some company might make a difference?”
It was with difficulty that he refrained from pointing out that her presence hadn’t stopped him from having a nightmare in the car earlier. Still, though, it occurred to him that spending the rest of the night in his partner’s company might go a long way to easing his frayed nerves.
“Okay,” he conceded softly. Alex smiled, relishing the small triumph over her pig-headed partner.
“Good. My place it is.”
Major Case Squad
One Police Plaza
8am, the following morning
James Deakins was used to dealing with all manner of strange folk. As captain of the Major Case Squad, one of the highest profile squads in the NYPD, it was all part and parcel of his job. The two that he had in his office right at that moment, however, well and truly took the cake. If he didn’t know any better, he would have thought they were CIA, or something similar, but their overly sinister and secretive behaviour left him seriously doubting their legitimacy. To make things worse, they were asking just a few too many questions about one of his best detectives, Robert Goren.
“Can I ask what this is about?” Deakins demanded, not for the first time. The man and woman – they’d introduced themselves as Lyle and Parker, and damned if the woman wasn’t familiar to Deakins – exchanged surreptitious looks that infuriated the hell out of him.
“We’re not at liberty to discuss that, Captain Deakins,” Lyle said calmly. Deakins glowered at him.
“You sit here asking all sorts of personal questions about my detective, and you won’t tell me what it’s about.”
“Like I said,” Lyle answered, “we’re not at liberty.”
“Can you please tell us when he’ll be back?” Parker asked. “We’d really like to speak to him directly.”
“That won’t be possible,” Deakins answered coolly. “He’s currently involved in a joint operation with another unit.”
“Until when?” Lyle demanded. Deakins was barely able to keep his expression neutral.
“I’m sorry. I’m not at liberty to disclose that information.”
A look passed fleetingly over Lyle’s face that left Deakins feeling disconcerted and mildly afraid. Then, it was gone, and the slimy son of a bitch was handing him a business card.
“That’s got my cell phone number. Please call me when Detective Goren is free again. We really do need to talk to him.”
Deakins watched them exit the squad room, then snatched up his cell phone and hit speed dial. It was answered on the second ring.
“Goren, it’s Deakins.”
Captain? What’s wrong?
Deakins smiled wryly. Trust Goren to know when something was wrong.
“In all honesty, Goren, I don’t know. Just tell me one thing. Where are you right now?”
There was a long silence, and then he answered tentatively.
I’m with Eames, at her apartment.
Deakins was too relieved to think twice about that admission.
“Good. Now, this is going to sound strange, but I don’t want you or Eames coming back here today. And don’t go to your own apartment, either. Just stay put with Eames at her place for now. I can’t explain now, but please do as I say.”
There was a low murmur of voices as Bobby explained to Eames what he had just been told by the captain. He heard her reply, and then Bobby was back.
Okay, sir. Whatever you say. Are we going to get an explanation, though?
“Yes, but not right now. I’ll come around there as soon as I can, and tell you both what I know which, in all honesty, isn’t that much. Just don’t leave Eames’ apartment, not for any reason. Do you understand me, Goren?”
He put an extra edge in his tone, hoping the stubborn detective would take the hint and not argue. To his relief, he did.
Okay, Captain. I’ll stay put, I promise.
He ended the call, and sat back slowly, frowning deeply. Something was wrong, and it irritated the hell out of him that he couldn’t work out what. His phone rang, and he snatched it up in irritation.
He listened for a long moment, incredulous.
“Now? …All right, fine. Send him up.”
Minutes later, a tall, somewhat lanky-looking man walked into the Major Case bullpen, and confidently crossed the floor to Deakins’ office. Deakins stood and greeted the man with reluctant enthusiasm.
“Agent Malone, was it? I’m Captain James Deakins.”
“Jarod Malone, FBI,” Jarod introduced himself. “Thankyou for being willing to see me, Captain Deakins. I apologise for the intrusion, but we have reason to believe that one of your officers may be at risk.”
Deakins stared at Malone blankly. After the bizarre visit from Parker and Lyle not long before, this was just a little too much.
“Come into my office, please,” Deakins invited him, closing the door carefully behind them. “Now, if you could explain yourself to me, I would greatly appreciate it, because I certainly couldn’t get any sense out of those two that were here before you.”
Jarod’s smile faded noticeably.
“Two? A man and a woman?”
“Yes, that’s right. Introduced themselves as...”
“Miss Parker and Mr Lyle?” Jarod inquired, and again Deakins nodded.
“Yes, that’s them.”
Jarod grimaced, quietly conscious of the fact that he must have passed almost right by them on his way into the building.
“I was hoping I’d get here ahead of them. Captain Deakins, can you tell me exactly what they wanted?”
“Not exactly, because they wouldn’t elaborate themselves, but they were asking a hell of a lot of questions about one of my detectives.”
“Detective Robert Goren?” Jarod inquired. Deakins stared at him intently.
“Yes,” he said finally. Jarod nodded grimly.
“I was afraid of that.”
“You’re saying that Detective Goren is at risk. At risk of what?”
Jarod returned Deakins’ stare easily, his expression open and unguarded.
“That’s what I hope to find out, Captain Deakins.”
“Well, you might like to know that I spoke to Goren just before you arrived,” Deakins said. “I told him and his partner not to come back here today, and for Goren not to go back to his apartment.”
Jarod nodded his approval.
“That’s good. I can guarantee that Lyle and Parker will have both this building and Detective Goren’s apartment under surveillance.”
“Two of my detectives, Logan and Barek, should be here within the next hour. I’ll have them take you to see Goren,” Deakins offered, and Jarod nodded in appreciation. Deakins then went on quietly. “Agent Malone, do you have any idea where those two are from? Because I could swear I know that woman from somewhere.”
Jarod looked curiously at him.
“I can’t tell you a lot just at the moment, Captain Deakins, except that they work for an agency that operates out of Blue Cove, in Delaware.”
Deakins frowned, his expression turning puzzled and just a little bit afraid.
“Yes, that’s right. Why?”
Deakins shook his head.
“Nothing. Just dejavu. Probably just coincidence.”
Jarod’s expression narrowed somewhat at that.
“Captain Deakins, in my experience there is no such thing as a simple coincidence”
Deakins smiled grimly.
“I’m afraid I know that only too well, Agent Malone.”
An hour later Mike and Carolyn trudged back into the Major Case squadroom just before nine, both struggling to stay focused after several hours working surveillance with no results to show for it.
“Deakins isn’t going to be happy,” Mike grumbled as he sank into his chair and rubbed one hand fiercely over his tired eyes. Carolyn shrugged.
“It’s not our fault the suspect never showed. And don’t forget, it was Goren who said he’d be there. So if there’s any backlash, it should go their way, not ours.”
Mike frowned a little. He suspected that that hadn’t come out quite the way Carolyn meant it to, but they were both tired, and he just didn’t have the energy to analyse her words properly.
“He made a reasonable call, Barek. It was just unlucky that it didn’t pan out.”
She smiled then. “Relax, Mike. I wasn’t suggesting we hang him out to dry. I just meant… hey, where are they, anyway?”
Mike looked past her and, sure enough, Bobby and Alex’s desks were unoccupied. He glanced around, and there was no sign of either detective.
“They should’ve been here by now,” Mike muttered. “Hey, Keller, do you know where Goren and Eames are?”
Detective Andy Keller paused on his way through the squadroom.
“They never showed this morning. Damien overheard Deakins on the phone to Goren about an hour ago, telling him not to come in this morning. Don’t know why.”
“That’s just wonderful,” Mike growled sourly as Keller continued on his way. “Deakins gives the Dynamic Duo the morning off, but we have come in.”
“Take it easy, Logan,” Carolyn murmured. “There’s probably a perfectly logical explanation for it. Heads up, here comes Deakins.”
Mike looked up wearily just as Deakins halted by their desks, with a man neither detective had seen before right behind him.
“Logan, Barek,” Deakins greeted them. “This is Agent Jarod Malone, from the FBI. I need you to take him to Eames’ apartment to see Goren.”
Mike and Carolyn exchanged surprised looks. Not a word about the failed surveillance?
“Uh, sure,” Mike said, standing up. “What’s it about?”
“Malone will tell you what he can on the way there,” Deakins answered. “Just be careful, and keep your eyes open for any tails. Particularly a man and a woman. Understand?”
Carolyn nodded, her suspicious gaze resting on Jarod. “Loud and clear, Captain.”
“So what is this about?” Carolyn asked as Mike guided their SUV out of One Police Plaza’s underground car park.
“We received a tip from a reliable source that Detective Goren might be at risk,” Jarod answered quietly. Mike glanced at him in the rear view mirror.
“At risk of what?”
“That’s what I’m hoping to find out,” Jarod said, echoing his earlier words to Deakins.
“So what branch of the FBI are you with?” Carolyn wondered, making a conscious effort to keep her tone entirely conversational. Jarod hesitated, then spoke with a small smile.
“I’m more of a freelance agent.”
Logan and Barek exchanged brief glances, but neither said a word, and neither noticed the piercing look that Jarod gave them both from where he sat in the back seat.
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